US warns commercial aircraft of risks flying over Persian Gulf

The United States aviation authority has issued a warning to commercial airlines flying over the Persian Gulf about the risk of being “misidentified” during increased military activities in the region as tensions ratchet up between the US and Iran.

Commercial aircraft flying over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman should be aware of “heightened military activities and increased political tension,” read the order issued by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) on Thursday and relayed by US diplomats in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday, AP reported.

The situation presents “an increasing inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” the warning said. Aircraft could also experience interference with its navigation instruments and communications “with little to no warning.”

Over the past two weeks, the United States has announced the deployment of a number of ships to the Middle Eastern waters, including an aircraft carrier, as well as an Air Force bomber task force and a Patriot missile defense system in response to perceived threats emanating from Iran. Last weekend, four ships were damaged in attacks off Fujairah, UAE that have not yet been claimed by any group.

The escalation comes a year after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear accord with Iran and began a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. On May 8, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran’s intention to scale back some of its nuclear commitments under the deal if it did not get some relief from sanctions.

The Persian Gulf is a major transportation hub – about a third of the world’s oil tanker traffic passes through the Strait of Hormuz and Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest for international travel. Airlines based in the region have not immediately commented on the FAA warning and there is heavy air traffic as of Saturday morning, according to the tracking website flightradar24.

Iran has denied playing a role in the Fujairah attack and called for an investigation. A Norwegian insurance company, however, concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were “highly likely” to have facilitated the attacks, Reuters reported. One of the ships damaged was a Norwegian vessel.

The insurer’s assessment concluded the attack was likely done by a nearby surface vessel that dispatched underwater drones carrying 30-50 kg of explosives that detonated on impact, Reuters reported after seeing the confidential report. The report reasoned that the IRGC was behind the attack because of similarities with Iranian-supplied weapons used by Houthi groups in Yemen.

Leaders in both Iran and the US have said they don’t want to go to war, despite the daily ratcheting up of tensions. “With all of the Fake and Made Up News out there, Iran can have no idea what is actually going on!” Trump tweeted on Friday. He had previously told Iran’s leader to “call me,” indicating he wants to open a channel of negotiations.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter saying the confusion is coming from the United States’ side where Trump says one thing but what he has dubbed the “B-team,” referring to US National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed, are doing something else.

“We in Iran have actually known what to think for millennia,” he said.